In May, we started watching the Bible Series again. This time with our church family at Grace. I wanted to share a few reflections on each episode.
This episode portrays a familiar story for many people: the story of Moses and the beginning of the Israelites’ exodus out of Egypt, the land of their slavery. This episode, just as the first, really helps to place our minds in a good context for reading the book of Exodus. Pharaoh really was seen as a god and probably believed that he was descended from the gods.
In this episode, Moses and his step-brother (or step-cousin?) are portrayed as people in their late forties or fifties. In the biblical story, Moses was eighty years old when he went before Pharaoh (Exodus 7:7). Moses did his best work when he was in his eighties. Then, after leading the people out of Egypt, he continued to lead the nation in the wilderness for forty more years. This means he lived in Midian anywhere from forty to sixty years before going to Pharaoh and being used by God in that way. We often feel like we are waiting on God or like He isn’t doing much with us. God is doing more than we are able to realize. He has a place for all of His people. God works according to His own timing, not ours, and He doesn’t only use the young.
In this episode, Moses exclaims, “You are real?” as God speaks from the burning bush. God replies, “I am.” In Exodus 3:13-15, we read a quite different and much more profound conversation:
Then Moses asked God, “If I go to the Israelites and say to them: The God of your fathers has sent me to you, and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ what should I tell them?”
God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the Israelites: Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever; this is how I am to be remembered in every generation.
Whereas the creators of this television show sought to answer the question, “Is God real,” and tried to answer it. This story in Scripture seeks to answer a different question, a question regarding God’s identity. The question we are left asking as we read this story is not, “Does God exist,” but instead, “Who is God?” This question benefits us more deeply that the question of God’s mere existence. I think a great many people have so distracted themselves with answering the question of God’s existence, that they never come to know who God actually is.
In the Biblical story, Moses does not ask if God is real. He asks what God’s name is. Remember, Moses has an Egyptian background. Different God’s have different names and different powers and different lands and different personalities. So, God does not answer immediately with the name that He wishes to be called. He answers by saying, “I am who I am.” In saying this, God, from the burning bush, is saying something not merely about His own existence, but about His nature. He is the only being who can say philosophically and holistically that He is who He is. No one else truly has that luxury, for with every stage of life we have to change in order to adapt. I know because I have a five-month-old. I can’t be who I was before he was born. I can’t be who I was before I married my bride. I am not who I was, and that is a good thing. God, though, does not change. He is not influenced by anything or anyone. This meant something especially profound for Moses, who was raised under teachings about the fake Egyptian gods that supposedly needed prayer and sacrifice in order to give their favor to people or provinces. The true God depends not on people. He is who He is. His plan depends only on Him. We do not have to prove ourselves to Him. I want to invite you to purchase my latest book, Church(ish). In its pages I walk through this idea and what it means for the local church in our day. I also bring up much more about the Egyptian theological context that the Israelites came out from.
God followed up this answer by also instructing Moses to tell the Israelites in Egypt that “I Am” sent Moses to them. God was doing this from His eternal glory and for His eternal glory. His message to Israel was that He did not depend on them. He would keep the covenant that He made with Adam, then with Noah, then also with Abraham. He would fulfill this same covenant that He would continue to establish through Moses on Mt. Sinai and through the prophets; and He would fulfill it in Christ, Jesus.
In the narration, this episode makes the claim that God’s purpose for plaguing Egypt was to change Pharaoh’s mind and get Pharaoh to release the Israelites. If God is the I Am, why would He turn and depend on Pharaoh to decide to release the Israelites? Was God’s purpose really to change Pharaoh’s mind? If it was, then the fact that by the end of this part of the story when Pharaoh was still pursuing the Israelites through the Red Sea, which Pharaoh was doing because he had not truly changed his mind, is evidence that God had failed. God, who is truly sovereign, the I Am, cannot fail or He is not God. The biblical account gives two answers to this question, God’s purpose for the plagues in Egypt. Though they are listed in various places, they are found side-by-side in Exodus 7:4-5:
“Pharaoh will not listen to you, but I will put My hand on Egypt and bring the divisions of My people the Israelites out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians will know that I am Yahweh when I stretch out My hand against Egypt, and bring out the Israelites from among them.”
First, the purpose was that God would bring Israel out of Egypt whether or not Pharaoh changed his mind. In fact, God states explicitly to Moses that Pharaoh will not listen. God was fulfilling His own covenant and His own plan. Second, the purpose was that the Egyptians would also know that God is Yahweh, the I Am. God’s overall purpose was His own glory, which is His right alone, and the ongoing establishing of His creation, which is always the work that God is doing. God, again, was fulfilling His own covenant and did not depend either on Israel or Egypt, on Moses or Pharaoh. It is interesting to me that the creators of the show wrote a script in which Moses was depicted as saying something like, “We are going to fulfill Abraham’s covenant with God.” They flipped the entire focus of the story. Even though they did this, it was good that they connected what was happening here with God’s covenant, the one He had been making and fulfilling through redemptive history and continues to fulfill in our day.
This is why lambs blood was spread on the doorways of the Israelites. People sinned and earned death. God covered their shame by slaughtering the first sacrificial animal. He provided a scapegoat for Abraham, reminding Abraham that death was the price for human sin and foreshadowing the coming of the Lamb of God. Blood is the price for sin. The Israelites were being saved by grace. They were covered with the blood of another, but this blood was not a perfect substitute. Christ came and spilled His perfect blood so that those who believe in Him will be covered by that blood and be saved by the same grace we see depicted in this story. In fact, the whole sacrificial system was designed so Israel would know that they could not earn their place with God but needed God’s grace, represented in the blood of the sacrificial lamb and fulfilled in the blood of Christ (the perfect Lamb of God).